I first met these recordings on Pye Golden Guinea 'simulated stereo' in the early 1960s. I knew the Schumann Symphonies and thought them beautiful but lumpy. These recordings proved me wrong - beautiful, yes, but Sir Adrian's sometimes rapid tempi, bouncy rhythms and structural control completely dispelled the notion that there was anything stodgy or heavy about the music, at least as he did them. It was all so full of life. Berlioz was different - quicksilver, exciting, with extraordinary long melodies - and here were some overtures I had never even heard of at the time, but lovely to get to know (particularly 'Le Roi Lear', which has been a favourite ever since). Again, the impression was of vivid playing, lovely phrasing and great musical impact.
But these recordings were serviceable, not good. Later CD issues of the Schumann, well remastered by Michael Dutton, were welcome and a good deal better, and I have them still. But this issue moves us a major step forward. Everything is cleaner and clearer, everything has greater impact, it is astonishingly good, and I would defy anyone to be unmoved by the power and excellence of these interpretations as we hear them now. It is wonderful to hear them again, 54 years after they were recorded, old friends in new clothes and coming up so bright and fresh. We owe a great debt to First Hand Records for what they have done here.
One or two things could not be sorted. The balance of the woodwind in the Berlioz was sometimes a little backward and remains so. The LPO was going through a tough time and occasionally there are signs of strain - for example in the very difficult violin figuration in the Scherzo of the Schumann Second Symphony or the first movement of the Third, where it really is just too fast for comfort ; though I have to say the faint impression of scampering to keep up - and just succeeding - almost adds to the 'live' feeling of the whole thing. Far more importantly, the Symphonies never lose the sense of forward momentum, whether in these difficult rapid passages or in the lyrical beauty of the slow movements, and likewise in the Berlioz Boult does not allow himself to wallow in the big tunes. They are beautifully phrased but never allowed to sit down and draw attention to themselves. The constant impression is of musicality and faithfulness to the score so that the music speaks for itself, most eloquently.
The CDs come nicely presented in a folding booklet with some photos of the recording sessions and of the original Westminster stereo LP covers (the recordings are in proper stereo but were not thus issued in the UK). The Schumann cover is interestingly bizarre. There is a good and not uncritical musical essay by Colin Anderson, helpful and perceptive about both the music and these interpretations. All of this is available for a generously modest price. I am delighted with this issue and recommend it most warmly to anyone who loves this music.These performances are far from routine and we now can hear them with a freshness and beauty that has not been possible before.